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Jefferson Park Bungalow a Trip Back in Time

By Heather Cherone | September 17, 2014 6:42am
  Alex Dunham, a carpenter, is restoring his 1940s Jefferson Park bungalow with his wife, Jen Bakija.
Jefferson Park Bungalow Restoration
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JEFFERSON PARK — Stepping into Alex Dunham and Jen Bakija's Jefferson Park bungalow is a bit like stepping back into the 1950s.

Vinyl records line the walls, and the furniture is low and sleek in keeping with the mid-Century modern vibe favored by Dunham and Bakija, who have been lovingly restoring the yellow-brick Chicago bungalow, which sits on a coveted corner double lot.

But across the room from a vintage turntable, a large flat-screen television faces a coffee table that was once a surfboard crafted by Dunham.

"We love film," Dunham said, shrugging his shoulders. "It is the most modern thing in our house."

Heather Cherone says the home is a throwback to the 1940s and '50s:

Bakija, who works in the western suburbs and is tethered to a computer all day, wants to come home to an technology-free oasis, Dunham said.

"She wants to come home and decompress, so that's what we do," Dunham said. "We listen to a lot of records."

Dunham fell in love with the house as soon as he saw it — despite the fact that the walls were covered in floral cloth wallpaper and the floors had to be redone before the couple could move in. The couple call their home Beatrice — because "she's blond and buxom and big," Dunham said.

"I fell in love," said Dunham, who was a general contractor and carpenter for many years. "We got it for a steal at the bottom of the real estate market. I was able to see past what you can see."

That meant turning a room off the kitchen — used as a bedroom by the previous owners, who lived there for close to 50 years — into a dining room by removing a wall and getting rid of some glass-paned doors. 

But don't look for modern drywall under the soft earth tones.

"We kept the plaster," Dunham said. "We like the wavy lines."

The house doubles as a showroom for Dunham's Brokenpress custom furniture business, and the basement has been transformed into a workshop, complete with a drafting table and dozens of tools, all covered in a fine mist of sawdust.

Dunham and Bakija aren't the only ones who love Chicago bungalows. The brick homes — which are typically 1½ stories tall, trimmed in stone and feature low-pitched roofs with overhangs — make up nearly a third of all single-family homes in Chicago, according to the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association.

But the renovation — which is still very much in progress — has had its share of surprises.

"We found these great sconces," Dunham said, pointing to the soft wall lights. "That was pretty sweet."

But the house needed to be completely rewired, and the couple is still toying with the idea of adding central air conditioning — a desire complicated by the fact Dunham wants to keep the house's original radiator heat.

Next up, Dunham plans to renovate the kitchen, which was last redone sometime in the 1980s, based on the cabinets. A 1940s refrigerator and 1950s stove are already in place.

"We're going to be working on this house for as long as we live here," Dunham said, pointing to a list of tasks taped inside a kitchen cabinet dating to their first days in the house. "It is just a matter of time — and money."

For more Northwest Side news from Heather Cherone, listen here: